A dermatologist breaks down the pros and cons of using makeup wipes on the reg.

By Arielle Tschinkel
January 07, 2021
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If you always have a stash of makeup remover wipes close by for quick post-workout cleansing, a midday makeup refresh, or an on-the-go fix, you're no doubt aware of how convenient, easy, and usually wallet-friendly they are to have on hand.

But one cosmetic doctor shared an Instagram video demonstrating the seemingly gross reality of using makeup wipes. The video shows Tijion Esho, MBChB, MRCS, MRCGP, founder of Esho Clinic, an aesthetic medical practice in the UK, applying foundation to the skin of a tangerine (which he used to represent the pores on your skin) then attempting — and failing — to remove the product with a makeup wipe. Instead of removing the foundation, the wipe simply smeared the makeup around, essentially clogging the so-called "pores" of the fruit's skin. "[This is] why I keep preaching to you all about makeup wipes," Esho captioned the video.

In an interview with Insider, Esho said that makeup remover wipes not only are environmentally damaging (since most of them aren't biodegradable, meaning they end up contributing to more waste in landfills), but they can also be unnecessarily harsh on the skin, thanks to chemical formulas that can cause "micro-tears" or "push makeup and debris deeper into your pores leading to further problems." (Related: These Innovations Are Making Your Beauty Products More Sustainable)

If that info has you fully freaked out about your own makeup wipe habit, fear not — these products aren't *always* bad for your skin (or the environment, for that matter, if you stick to reusable makeup wipes). But if you do use them regularly, you might want to switch up how you're using them, says Robyn Gmyrek, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Park View Laser Dermatology. (Related: The Beauty Junkie's Guide to Using a Ton of Skin-Care Products Without Ruining Your Skin)

First, Dr. Gmyrek notes that there's "no valid scientific comparison between tangerine skin and human skin." So, while she wouldn't exactly equate the surface of your skin to that of the citrus fruit, she confirms that the cleansing agents used in most makeup remover wipes can indeed be harsh for your complexion.

Makeup wipes often contain cleansing and lathering agents such as surfactants, which dissolve makeup, and emulsifiers, which help to dissolve and remove makeup, says Dr. Gmyrek. Both cleansing ingredients "can irritate the skin and dry the skin out," not to mention "emulsifiers are pulling out oils from your skin as they are working," she explains.

Aside from potentially stripping skin of its natural oils, makeup remover wipes can also sit on the skin's surface, which can cause further irritation if you're not washing off the residue chemicals of the wipe (especially if you have sensitive skin), adds Dr. Gmyrek. "In addition, many makeup wipes have fragrance, which can cause both irritation as well as allergic dermatitis [i.e. an itchy red rash]," she says. (Related: The Best Skin Care Routine for Sensitive Skin)

Dr. Gmyrek may not exactly agree with Esho's comparison of tangerine and human skin, but she does endorse the alternative approach that Esho suggested in his Instagram post: double cleansing with a facial cleanser or micellar water for 60 seconds.

"Micellar water traps the dirt, oil, and makeup into the micelles [tiny balls of oil that attract dirt and grime] it contains," explains Dr. Gmyrek. "It is gentle and generally contains mild surfactants to clean, in addition to hydrating ingredients. It is fantastic for areas where people have hard water [water with a high mineral content], which can be very drying to the skin." (Here are more beauty-boosting benefits of micellar water.)

But if you already have a favorite go-to cleanser, you don't necessarily need to swap it out. "I'm not against the use of foaming cleansers if you don't have hard water or super sensitive skin," explains Dr. Gmyrek. "Gentle cleansers also contain surfactants and emulsifiers, but as they are rinsed off, they do their job of cleansing and do not remain on the skin after rinsing. They are generally well-tolerated and do not cause problems." She also recommends using serums and moisturizers after thoroughly washing and drying to ensure you're keeping your skin properly hydrated. (And yes, you should always remove your makeup before bed.)

Think your current routine is throwing your skin out of whack? Dr. Gmyrek suggests finding wipes, micellar waters, or cleansers that are fragrance-free, as fragrance is notoriously irritating to those with sensitive skin and conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, and psoriasis.

Thankfully, there are plenty of solid options out there to make your skin feel squeaky clean without irritation. Consider fragrance-free picks such as Dr. Loretta Gentle Hydrating Cleanser (Buy It, $35, dermstore.com), a sulfate-free product that uses chamomile essential oils to soothe redness and irritation. There's also the Bioderma Sensibio H2O (Buy It, $15, dermstore.com), a micellar water that's gentle enough for everyday use, including makeup removal from the face and eyes.

Need more pore-friendly suggestions for your makeup removal routine? Here are the best pore cleansers that actually remove dirt, oil, and build-up.)

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